Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Amazon set to be next big U.S. defense contractor — critics urge for 'effective oversight'

"We seem to be racing toward a new configuration of government and industry without having fully thought through all of the implications," Steve Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told MIT Technology Review.

Image source: SOPA Images / Getty
  • The U.S. Department of Defense is choosing between Amazon and Microsoft as the winner of the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract.
  • JEDI is a massive cloud-computing deal reportedly worth $10 billion.
  • Amazon appears to be the favorite. But it remains unclear how such a partnership between industry and government would affects concerns over privacy and the storage of sensitive military data.


In 2007, Amazon and the U.S. engaged in virtually zero collaboration, and the company even fought a government subpoena for customer information related to a fraud case. But now, Amazon could soon become one of the government's largest defense contractors, an unprecedented move that raises questions about the changing relationship between government and big tech.

Tech companies have spent years competing for the U.S. Department of Defense's Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, a cloud-computing deal reportedly worth $10 billion. The winner would be tasked with centralizing military information and providing access to cloud-computing services for various projects. For the massive deal, the government is seeking a single contractor, a decision that's prompted no shortage of controversy.

"Single award is advantageous because, among other things, it improves security, improves data accessibility and simplifies the Department's ability to adopt and use cloud services," DOD spokesperson Heather Babb told TechCrunch.

Google dropped out of the running last year, and though Microsoft remains in the running, critics have said the contract appears "gift-wrapped" for Amazon, which already has a $600 million deal with the Central Intelligence Agency. In August, the Pentagon ordered a review of the award process after President Donald Trump said the deal appears to be rigged in favor of Amazon, whose Amazon Web Services is the largest cloud-computing provider in the world.

"It's a very big contract," said President Donald Trump in August. "One of the biggest ever given having to do with the cloud and having to do with a lot of other things. And we're getting tremendous, really, complaints from other companies, and from great companies. Some of the greatest companies in the world are complaining about it."

Besides favoritism, what are some of the concerns about the world's largest retailer assuming such a powerful role over the nation's most sensitive data?

President Donald J. Trump

Photo credit: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Image

One concern is Amazon's outlook on privacy, informed by how the company markets its facial recognition technology. Amazon has developed facial recognition technology that's already being used in some U.S. police departments. Stephen E. Arnold, a specialist in intelligence and law enforcement software, told MIT Technology Review that he thinks Amazon's push into local law enforcement is just the start of a larger strategy.

"Amazon wants to become the preferred vendor for federal, state, county, and local government when police and intelligence solutions are required," Arnold said, adding that he predicts Amazon will then move on to international markets.

Amazon said in a statement:

"We feel strongly that the defense, intelligence, and national security communities deserve access to the best technology in the world. And we are committed to supporting their critical missions of protecting our citizens and defending our country."

It's worth noting that, compared to other Silicon Valley companies, Amazon seems relatively unconcerned about the potential problems associated with facial recognition technology, choosing to move forward with government collaboration while other companies have held back.

But perhaps the biggest consequences of the JEDI contract are the one that remain unpredictable.

"We seem to be racing toward a new configuration of government and industry without having fully thought through all of the implications. And some of those implications may not be entirely foreseeable," Steve Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told MIT Technology Review. "But any time you establish a new concentration of power and influence, you also need to create some countervailing structure that will have the authority and the ability to perform effective oversight. Up to now, that oversight structure doesn't seem to [be] getting the attention it deserves."

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

Keep reading Show less

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Lee Jae-Sung of Korea Republic lies on the pitch holding his knee during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at Kazan Arena on June 27, 2018 in Kazan, Russia.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
Keep reading Show less

Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

Surprising Science

How often do vaccine trials hit paydirt?

Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast